Thursday, October 22, 2009

Homeopathy is a disease of the mind

Earlier this week I said I found it alarming that a Heel affiliate was promoting what is probably a quack treatment for dengue. I did some googling and apparently there indeed are homeopathic remedies intended to address dengue. For instance Dr. Ana Teresa Doria Dreux, former president of the Instituto Hahnemanniano do Brasil (presumably named in honor of homeopathy's inventor Samuel Hahnemann) and currently its VP, prescribes nostrums for the prevention and treatment of dengue. Her concoction consists of 5CH and 12CH dilutions (equivalent to 10X and 24X). That's 1 part per ten billion and 1 part per trillion trillion of active ingredients respectively. The latter is simply too dilute to have any possible effect (therapeutic or adverse). She tells us that these remedies are her own creations. However, we are not told what clinical trials have been performed to test their efficacy. All she says is:
So far, with those patients who have used this formula as prevention, there have not been any cases of infection, at least not reported to me.

I distribute this formula every year to all the personnel at IHB during the periods of epidemics and since I began doing so, not one of the approximately 22 employees has contracted the disease, not even those who live in areas where it is endemic.

This of course is insufficient evidence for efficacy. When I read the above the image that pops in my head is that of Dreux tightly crossing her fingers behind her back praying her luck holds.

Despite belief in the efficacy of her anti-dengue nostrum, she cautions:
Of course homeopathy does not DO AWAY WITH or INTERFERE with the obligatory medical care in these cases, nor should we neglect to eradicate the vector (the Aedes aegypti mosquito) by eliminating its breeding sites.

Well, if "obligatory medical care" and eradication of the disease vector weren't and aren't done away with, couldn't these be the cause of the lack of incidence? Setting aside ethical issues for the moment, if Dreux actually performed a double-blind trial and subjected half of a community to her brew and half to pure sugar pills--withholding any other form of treatment including "obligatory medical care"--perhaps she could have a better idea of whether her "medicine" actually works or not. As it is, Dr. Dreux is infected with dilution delusion. And not even an hourly dose of 100,000X (ultra powerful stuff indeed!) whatnot will cure her.

Dreux and her water institute aside, what is truly disturbing is what the doctor reveals in passing--that Brazil's health department has a homeopathy division. When government legitimizes quackery and itself peddles snakeoil then it has betrayed the people. One can only hope that there are Brazilians who are making noise and who are trying to inject sanity into its department of health.

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